Friday, January 24, 2014

Classics Lecture Series: Communicating With a Partner Through Game Play - Euchre

Euchre is a Michigan obsession.  At lunch time in high school there were Euchre tournaments in the cafeteria.  I carried a Euchre deck with me when I worked maintenance so we could play Euchre on our federally mandated breaks.  I met my wife in D.C. because she stated in her online profile she was looking for someone to play Euchre with and she spelled Euchre correctly.  Turned out she also had ties to Michigan too.

Why focus on a regional card game popular in the Great Lakes region?  In Euchre, the best players learn to read what their partner is doing without ever exchanging a word or hand signals.  Talking about your hand is illegal during gameplay.  Just imagine playing Pandemic without telling your teammates what you are going to do till after you have done it.  No pre planning.  No verbal hints of what you are about to do and where you are going next.  Only observations of what your teammates are doing on the board to give you any insights of what they are up to.  That is the challenge to the game of Euchre.

Below is a Quick Run Down How to Play If you do not know how to play.  If you do know how to play skip to the heading Euchre Communication.

Euchre is a four player trick taking card game.  You are paired up with a partner who is on the same team as yourself.  Your partner sits across from you and the opposing team players are split with one on your left and one on your right.

In each round 20 of the 24 cards are dealt.  The four remaining cards are placed in the middle of the table and the top card is flipped up.  Starting left of the dealer each player is asked if they want the card to be trump.  If anyone says ‘pick it up’ the dealer puts the card into their hand and then discards a card from their hand.

If the card is not picked up you go around in a circle to ask if anyone would like to call trump.  If everyone passes then the cards are throw in and the next person deals.  Once trump has been set upon the person left of the dealer leads in the first hand.  Players must follow suit of the lead.  Only cards from the same suit as the lead can take a hand (known as a trick in Euchre players) unless trump is played.  The lead changes within the round based on which player played the highest card that took the last trick.

If you and your teammate take all five tricks you earn two points.  If you and your partner take three or four tricks you earn one point if you called trump and you earn two points if the other team called trump.  When you call trump and you lose you have been euchred.  If a player calls trump and announces they are going alone, they play the round without their partner.  If they take every trick that round the team earns four points.  The first team to score ten points wins the game.

Euchre Communication
Communication is key in Euchre.  Without talking to each other you want to maximize the ability of your combined hands to take as many tricks as possible.  The biggest danger is you are going to nullify your partner's good cards by miss playing your own or call the wrong suite for the style of Euchre your partner plays.

To help new players they are taught a set of conservative rules on Euchre strategy.

1. Do not over trump your partner.

2. If you are starting a round lead with your highest non-trump card.

3. Do not draw out your partner's trump if you cannot take enough tricks on your own to win the round.

4. Do not call trump unless you have 3 trump cards and at least one is either the left or right bower.

Notice I did not claim that these rules by themselves always give you your best chance to win.  That is a fallacy perpetuated by even some experience Euchre players who consider it a mortal sin to violate these rules.

There are numerous times in Euchre with experienced players where you should break these rules.

That said, violate these rules as a new player and you risk a tongue lashing from your partner.  (Euchre is a serious game to Michiganders).

Why are these rules so important to new players?  These rules are important to new players, because if you follow them your partner knows what you are doing and can adjust their strategy accordingly.  If you are not taught to play in any sort of pattern your partner has no idea what you are doing and cannot plan any strategy based on your hand contributing to the teams success.

Advance players do not need the four rules.  Advance players learn during a game how to read their partner.

Why can advance players read their partner and not beginners?  Advance players understand enough Euchre strategy to read their partners playing patterns and are much better at counting cards to produce winning combinations.

Advance players, like advance diplomacy players know that the way you play your hand communicates to your partner what is in your hand.  In Diplomacy if you move your ship to the English Channel there is a good chance you are planning an attack on either France or Great Britain.

There are different levels of advance play.  There is the intermediate level of Euchre communication based just on knowing the rules.  Intermediate level of communication does not rely on any knowledge of deep strategy.

Standard strategy dictates that when a non Trump card is led; all the other player plays before you; and everyone has followed the suite that you play a trump card to take the trick.  When you do not trump the suit you are communicating to your partner that either you have no trump in your hand or you have only one trump in your hand that is the highest trump card not yet played.  This information will let your partner reassess their hand strategy to better utilize their own trump cards.

Advance intermediates start counting cards.  They are able to hand off trump to their partner by purposefully playing an off suite they know their partner does not possess.  They also realize that when their partner calls trump and does not lead with either bower that they are missing at least one of the bowers, possibly both.

Advance, not based on player patterns, recognize certain situations, such as trying to stop someone from taking all the tricks and start reading each other’s cards in an attempt to cover as many different suites as possible to increase the likelihood they have the proper suit led to have a chance to take the last trick.

Advance players can adjust how they communicate their cards by identifying the playing style of their partner. Advance players quickly figure out in the first few hands if their partner is a conservative play or an aggressive player.  Does your partner only call trump if they have a loaded hand or are they willing to rely on their partner to pick up a trick or try to win the hand with a bunch of off suites?

Once you figure out how your partner plays Euchre then you can start better utilizing moves to communicate that are appropriate to your partner's strategy.

In Euchre, if your partner calls hearts trump, they think hearts are their best shot of getting points.  Right away you can look at your own hand and think to yourself what do I know about my hand that my partner might find useful to know.

For example, if you have the left or right bower you decide you might want to find a way to let your partner know so they can play their hand more freely.  If your partner is a conservative player and your hand has little value for taking any more tricks you might play your high trump on a low trump to let your partner know its location so they do not feel constrained to act out the rest of their hand.  If your partner is an aggressive player you will only communicate to them you have a high trump if it appears they are not going to be able to take the trick since you cannot risk losing one of their trump cards if they called it on a weak hand.

None of this change in strategy is from talking to your partner.  All of it comes from watching how your partner plays their hands and adjusting how you play your cards.  By reading your partner you are able to more efficiently communicate with just your game play.

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